Not much wisdom was required to note the anxiety and agony of the leaders of Borno State as they visited President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday, January 7, 2019, on the current situation in the war-torn state and the Nigerian northeastern region in general. The way state governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, massaged the ego of Buhari at the event merely further exposed and accentuated the incapacity of the Commander-in-Chief and the helplessness of the citizens.
Governor Shettima, around this period in 2015, traversed media houses locally and internationally, including the CNN, raking on President Goodluck Jonathan. He was certainly not a man to cry because the situation, unpalatable as it truly was, had not degenerated to the monstrous state we now find ourselves in. The tears of Shettima were genuine and real in all respects. It showed a man humbled by the fear of increased capacity and successes of the enemy. Up to 2015, though Boko Haram was attacking, the capacity and integrity of our armed forces were not so rubbished as to make them run away from the battlefront on account of lack of weapons to fight. They were raring to go with such high morale, propelled by patriotism. I remember the junior Obasanjo, a Brigadier General, who, while still receiving treatment in hospital from war front injuries, was hurrying his doctors so as to join the troops he commanded.
The cry of Shettima was real. His fortress at the Maiduguri headquarters was under siege. While there at Aso villa, Maiduguri was attacked as Auno village, just on the outskirts, some 20 kilometres away, was being taken over by Boko Haram. Caged in Maiduguri, and as stated in his speech, it took extraordinary security efforts and courage for him and his colleagues to visit Borno. Expressing his desperation and the urgency of the situation, the governor told the President:
“Your Excellency, we came with some observations and 10 specific requests for urgent intervention. These observations and requests are products of discussions in the aftermath of our extraordinary security meeting held one week ago. We didn’t rush to come after the meeting. We felt the need to travel to northern Borno, interact with displaced persons and the military so as to strengthen public confidence.”
The Borno governor painted a horrendous picture of the state under Jonathan, claiming that 20 out of the 27 local governments in the state were under Boko Haram occupation and its caliphate administration. However, he forgot to remind Buhari that the Borno that was handed over in May 2015 was one in which the 2015 general election held peacefully and successfully in all the polling units of the 27 LGAs. A whopping 515,008 votes were cast, out of which Buhari had 473, 543 of the total 501,920 valid votes. Shettima didn’t tell Buhari that, under Jonathan, there was no need to consider voting in the refugee camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), which were then insignificant but comparatively in phenomenal proportions today that voting by Nigerian refugees even in other West African countries, was recently mooted.
While bemoaning the abduction of the Chibok girls under Jonathan, Shettima did not draw the President’s attention to the fact that we are yet to bring back the girls in addition to the Dapchi schoolgirls, in neighbouring Yobe, whose abductions were executed by Boko Haram. He was probably oblivious of the fact that the renewed strength of Boko Haram under this administration cannot be separated from the policy of surreptitious engagement through ransom payment.
In contrast, the testimony, on the floor of the House of Representatives, of Hon. Sanni Zoro Mohammed was vivid. The Jigawa parliamentarian on the platform of the APC had wondered why his colleagues had refused to paint the true picture, stating that it was an understatement that the northern part of Nigeria was under siege, but has actually failed in much respects with implications for the rest of the country. In his testimony now trending in the media, Zoro, who was a vocal delegate at the 2014 National Conference, spoke extensively:
“We just returned from a tour, an oversight function to Borno and Yobe states. On Thursday, when we went to Maiduguri, Boko Haram insurgents launched an attack on an IDP camp called Dalori II, located just opposite the University of Maidugiri. They burnt down a substantial part of that IDP camp, killed eight people, abducted women and ran into the bush unchallenged. We went to Bama, the second most important town in Borno State. There are no 200 persons in Bama today. The talks of safety, normalcy and stabilisation being restored in the North East is a farce, a ruse, not correct, a lie. Now before you are escorted in that part of the country, you need almost a platoon of soldiers and even the soldiers themselves, in spite of the encouragement we give them, are not confident. On Saturday, we travelled to Gashua in Yobe State.
“On our way back, we were at Damaturu by 7 O’clock, we could not move to Maiduguri, which is just an hour (away). Up till now, you cannot leave Yobe to Maiduguri once it is 6 O’clock. We had to stay back at Maiduguri with the only clothes on us, no brush until the following day when we were allowed by security forces, including our escorts. Parts of our assignments would have been to go to Chibok, but Chibok is no-go area. Only three days earlier, they raided a village next to where the Chief of Army Staff comes from, killed people and ran back to the village.”
One area the Borno delegates dealt the President’s image a lethal blow was the declaration by the Borno governor about the salutary and indispensable contributions of the local Borno youths in fighting Boko Haram. It must be emphasised that this striking force known locally as Civilian JTF was voluntarily and haphazardly put together by the people to support the joint operations of the security forces in the wake of the insurgency.
As Shettima testified before the President, the Civilian JTF is today the Borno State police force, whose effectiveness ranks almost with that of the military and may only be a little less only in terms of authorised weapons.
The governor proudly drew the President’s attention when he stated unequivocally thus: “ Mr President, from 2013 to date, more than 20,000 youth volunteers, among them young women, have offered themselves in fighting Boko Haram under the Civilian JTF. From 2013 to date, our administration has been solely responsible for funding hundreds of successful operations carried out by the Civilian JTF.
We have been responsible for their recruitment. We fund their training, kit them, provide them operational vehicles and maintain these vehicles. We pay their allowances, supply them surveillance gadgets and we deploy them on the advice of security establishments. Most importantly, these Civilian JTF are good in gathering local intelligence and they are experts in identifying Boko Haram members, no matter how they try to conceal themselves. They have done so much with our consistent support.”
So many issues are evident in the governor’s testimony on the state-owned Civilian JTF, bordering on the restructuring of the Nigerian federation, which Buhari and his Change Team have consistently opposed. Buhari has remained obstinate on the issue of restructuring, falsely claiming that the concept has not been defined, in spite of his access to the 2014 Confab reports and the El-Rufai APC Committee recommendations, which unmistakably set out the imperative details of restructuring the Nigerian federation.
The day after the Borno delegation’s visit, the taciturn President was reported in an interview to have rejected the idea of state police only on the ground that the states couldn’t afford it. Borno is not one of the rich states, yet for close to six years, it has put a 20,000-strong force under arms. Where the amorphous Nigeria Police, consisting of men and women who truly have other homes and native lands they nostalgically look up to, the youths of native Kanuri and other nationalities of Borno have nowhere to go and are compelled to defend the civilisation and land of their forbears.
In the beginning, they were fighting with bare hands, yet Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, feared and cursed them. With unwavering patriotism they stay in the gaps where official security fails. The governor couldn’t hide his admiration of the efficiency of these local boys and girls in intelligence gathering through which they hound Boko Haram, howsoever they try to conceal themselves.
I dare say, the national security apparatuses cannot match these boys in this all-important area of security. This may explain the reason people of the South West would prefer OPC guarding their streets and houses than the police or the voluntary response of Igbo traders to unarmed Biafran organisations.
The success of the Borno Civilian JTF is the metaphor for the imperative of state police in a restructured truly federal Nigeria.
• Ebiseni is former Commissioner in Ondo State and delegate at the 2014 Confab